I loved writing this story. It’s so so important for young women programs to develop in middle schools, because insecurities are in everyone and about everything, and are developing around that time in a girl’s life. This program is amazing, and I think they should be implemented in every middle school.
Women come in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages, and regardless of all of these factors, we all have our insecurities. Thomas Harrison Middle School’s Young Women’s Leadership program (YWLP) works to empower their seventh grade students, giving them an opportunity to explore leadership and confidence through discussion, technology, relationships, mentorships and more. YWLP is currently in its second year, THMS’s own counselor Vanessa Redmond being the director. Redmond is passionate about not only what the program stands for, but also the students themselves.
“I hope that it gives them a sense of, first off, confidence, and that higher self esteem, but also how to work with others and take initiative and be that leader, so if you want to see something done you have to see it done yourself or with other people. If you see a potential dream, go after it; don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, or someone else to claim it for you. I want them to gain motivation to want to reach out and grab it,” Redmond said.
YWLP covers many topics pertaining to the girls, as do the many activities that go along with them, one for each time they meet.
“We talk about all things from self-esteem to body image to healthy habits, leadership, women empowerment, careers…In the fall we had a career panel where we had about seven different women in different professions come and basically talk about the career they have and how they got their to be an inspiration to them,” Redmond said. “And then we do a lot of group work in our after school activities because it’s important to be able to collaborate with others and work together as a team to achieve certain goals; we do about one a week…. One of my favorites had to go through old magazines and collect images of women that were either too thin too large just right or ideal and then they had to cut them out and present to the classes what’s going on.”
One of the most hard-hitting topics of the group is one pertaining to self-image.
“I think that anytime we talk about body image it really comes to heart with them. I mean, every woman struggles with that no matter how old [they] are, so I think it’s something we could really delve into and discuss,” Redmond said. “As diverse as our girls are they also are in body shape and size, and it’s so wonderful to see the 85 pound girl talk to the larger girl and say, ‘But I think you’re beautiful, I don’t know why you think [negatively of yourself]’. ‘Uh, well, it’s so easy to be skinny’. ‘No it’s not because I can’t find clothes that fit’. So it goes both ways, the fashion industry doesn’t help us at all in feeling confident about ourselves, and I think that’s really the most prominent and important piece that we talk about.”
Seventh grader Katelyn Lindsey’s favorite topic, though, has been cyberbullying.
“I’ve never been cyberbullied, I’ve never been really bad[ly] bullied, but I’ve been bullied before, and it can get really bad and it’s good to try and help,” Lindsey said. “When I’m bullied, I feel bad and I feel like I’m alone and I have no one to talk to….It’s not nice [to bully others] and it will make them feel really bad, and sometimes it can get really bad to where they want to hurt themselves, and that doesn’t make anything better because I’ve said that I’ve wanted to hurt myself before. It’s not good because you don’t really think about all of the people who love you, and so the thing that [we] learn about, is that it’s good to think of yourself and all of the friends that you have, all the family and don’t listen to bullies.”
Overall, Lindsey has found the program to be useful and has learned much, applying the concepts in her everyday life.
“I’ve grown [in] not judging people and I treat people better than other people do… I’ve learned not to base people on how they look… I’m kind of nice to everyone. I don’t want to [brag] or anything, but I have great friends and I don’t really judge people a lot, but if you ask my friends I’m a really happy person most of the time and I’m very energetic. I’m not trying to [brag] and say I’m better than everyone else, but I’m just nice,” Lindsey said. “Bullies they’re like, ‘I don’t want to talk to girls’, or anything but I’ll say hi to them once in awhile. People can change over the years… It’s good to be nice to people because then you could have a really nice long [friendship]. My mom will say, sometimes I tell her I feel like I don’t have any friends and she will say, ‘Think outside of the box and then you have a lot of friends’, so it’s kind of nice to have people to talk to and so if you’re nice to them they’ll want to talk to you when you need help.”